31st March 2015

A Strange Breakfast At Tiffany

By Martin Skeet

A visit to Shepherds Bush Westfield’s luxury brand shopping mall.

In the 1960s TV series ‘The Prisoner’, Patrick McGoohan played the eponymous hero condemned to live in a mixed up world called ‘The Village’. Here nothing was quite what it seemed, a kind of Alice in Wonderland country full of bizarre contrasts and people behaving strangely. I recently visited Westfield’s Shepherds Bush shopping centre luxury brand mall and found myself in an equally peculiar world where very strange things are going on with luxury brands.

A teenager leant on the counter, pulled off his baseball cap, set down his bag of McDonalds... then selected some diamond stud earrings.

It took me a while to register what made this place feel so different but I can best explain it by describing what I saw in happening in Tiffany. A teenager leant on the counter, pulled off his baseball cap, set down his bag of McDonalds and open bottle of Coke on the glass counter top. Then with the help of a friendly member of staff selected some diamond stud earrings. Now lets be honest, if this person had walked up to Tiffany’s flagship Old Bond Street store he would probably not have got very far past the security guard. And if he had made it inside I can only imagine how he might have been treated or more importantly how he might have been made to feel.

We all know how luxury brand shopping works. Or at least we do when we are not one of the super rich who can really afford it: we dress a bit smarter before we leave to go shopping because we know we have to feel confident enough to get past the guy on the door. The smarter you look the faster the door seems to open and this very act somehow signals to those inside that we are worthy of being there. Then emboldened by this happy arrangement, we buy what we want, get treated very nicely and exit feeling better than we did before we went in. We have bought the product, bought the fleeting feeling it gives us, and invariably bought something we feel guilty spending so much money on.

At Westfield something very different goes on. Here you can let your hair down in a completely manufactured and artificial bubble where the barriers of status and belonging are lowered – it’s fun because the luxury brands have let their hair down too. Westfield is a lot like an airport but without the duty free savings. At airports the overlay of duty free is the key to making luxury more accessible – it’s cheaper but not cheapened. You may be on your way to Majorca in a t-shirt and shorts but you are shopping in Prada. Westfield creates a similarly relaxed world where you can buy a £700 bottle of vintage champagne and drink it sitting in a cold and draughty bar 4 feet from the front door of a shop whilst being gawped at by people on their way to the Disney Store. Luxury that I imagine would somehow feel far from luxurious.

The Westfield mantra seems to be if you can pay for it you belong here

But, to be clear I think this place is very, very clever. Westfield’s master brand allows luxury brands to retain their luxury status whilst becoming accessible to many more customers. The product, price, packaging and service are all the same but the way it’s accessed has changed. The Westfield mantra seems to be if you can pay for it you belong here. Westfield cunningly creates a kind of real celebrity and me-too arena where premiership footballers can pop in and buy a £60,000 diamond encrusted Rolex and an early 20s guy living at home with his parents can spend his considerable disposable income at Tiffany on a quarter carat diamond in considerable comfort.

Brilliantly, there is no real reputational damage for the brands because this is another world operating in a completely separate orbit. Actually, it almost feels like a parallel universe and I can’t imagine for one minute that a regular shopper in Gucci Old Bond Street would ever want to make the trek to Shepherds Bush for their loafers, or that our baseball hat wearing Westfield shopper would want to work his way down Bond Street window shopping.

So if you haven’t been already – make a trip to this crazy, brilliant world of luxury branding. The luxury brands are easy to find in an exclusive enclave called – you guessed it – The Village.